After three years, the Government has received the final verdict of the independent commission created to recommend an option for expanding aviation capacity in the South East of England.
Established under the previous Coalition Government, the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, was charged with producing a recommendation from among three shortlisted options: building a third runway at Heathrow; lengthening an existing Heathrow runway; or building a second runway at Gatwick. Set up to reach cross-party consensus on the issue, the timing of the Commission’s final report was designed to skip the politically sensitive General Election period.
In the end, the Commission delivered a clear recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow, based on the strength of the economic case. However, the report acknowledged the feasibility of Gatwick expansion, leaving ministers with some wiggle room.
The new Conservative Government faces the tricky challenge of responding to the final option recommended by the Commission. Ministers have repeatedly refused to be drawn on the subject, insisting on the need to preserve the integrity of the process – whilst the Conservative Manifesto simply committed the party to responding to the final outcome.
Ministers face making a decision that will have profound implications on the 2016 London Mayoral elections, a contest with a history of drawing outspoken candidates. The party also has MPs, including six Cabinet ministers, with seats in West and South West London who may seek to sway its view.
Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed to the House of Commons that the Government would respond formally before the end of the year, whilst Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin indicated it could come as soon as September.
Meanwhile, Labour is seeking to regain national momentum by taking the consolation prize of strong London gains at the General Election.
An issue intersecting with local, national, international concerns, the Government’s response to the Davies Commission will have profound implications for decades to come.
DeHavilland has prepared a briefing on the Government’s response to the Airports Commission Final Report. It examines the factors that may influence what ministers decide; whilst out colleagues from DeHavilland EU reflect on the European context. Click here to view it.
Mike Indian is Political Consultant and a member of DeHavilland’s Content team, leading on infrastructure and Scottish affairs. He leads on DeHavilland's dynamic content, specifically videos and podcasts, and regularly appears in the media as a political commentator. A graduate of Lancaster University, he has worked as a freelance journalist.